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Parliament considers summoning Gupta lieutenant Ashu Chawla

Gupta foot soldier Ashu Chawla is a wanted man in Parliament, with the portfolio committee on home affairs struggling to find the former Sahara chief executive.

Committee chairperson Hlomani Chauke is presiding over his first ever inquiry in Parliament, as phase two of parliament’s investigation into the Guptas’ citizenship began on Wednesday morning.

At the centre of the storm on how Gupta brothers Atul and Rajesh became naturalised South African citizens lies a network of foot soldiers who are accused of bending over backwards to help the family.

Much of this network has already been revealed through the Gupta leaks emails, which exposed how Chawla helped facilitate some of the Guptas’ dodgy deals in South Africa. Chauke said that Chawla “facilitated and called for all the kind of visas that he wants” through his contacts in Home Affairs.

These are visas that are believed to have been issued for employees who worked at various Gupta companies, without due process allegedly being followed.

Chawla has been named as a crucial witness to appear before the committee, but although he became a naturalised South African citizen 17 years ago, the committee has had no luck finding him.

“We have to find him,” Chauke said on Wednesday. “We need that person. That person must appear before the inquiry. He must tell us of his activities with Home Affairs officials.”

The committee is now considering issuing a summons for Chawla to appear, and requesting the South African Police Service (Saps) to track him down.

Rudie Heyneke, the portfolio manager for transport at the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), was the first to make a submission under oath before the inquiry on Wednesday. Much of Heyneke’s testimony centred on the Gupta leaks emails, where he rehashed what the emails had revealed about the infamous family’s alleged capture of home affairs.

A director in the home affairs’ foreign office, Major Kobese, was an important contact for Chawla — and therefore the Guptas — according to the emails. Chawla would make requests to Kobese and if staff did not follow up quick enough for Kobese’s liking, they would be sternly berated.

Gideon Christians was another important contact. In 2014, the Guptas allegedly paid for visas for Christians’ family to go on a trip to Dubai. Heyneke described the relationship as a possible “quid pro quo” affair where Christians would provide “continued support” to Chawla in exchange for “rewards”. Christians is alleged to have assisted Chawla in obtaining visas for Gupta associates.

Both Kobese and Christians are expected to testify on Wednesday afternoon.

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Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

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